Silly season at IUPUI

Dateline: Fri 07 Mar 2008

At least two other blogs and NUVO have reported on this, and thanks to them and a reader for pointing it my way. This is a compilation of those stories, with links at the end.

Keith Sampson is a 50-ish student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who is studying communications and works as a janitor.

He loves to read and always has a book going. So during a work break in the break room last year while on duty at the Medical Science Building, he pulled out his public library copy of "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan." Published in 2004 by Loyola Press of Loyola University in Chicago, the book is about the efforts of the South Bend Irish and students at Notre Dame to fight back against the Klan in 1924. It was written by Todd Tucker and has been well received.

But say Klan in some circles, and all light of reason goes out the window.

The first to object to Sampson's reading material reportedly was his AFSCME shop steward. That person told Sampson that reading a book about the Klan is like bringing porn to work. Later, a coworker in the break room told him how offended she was. According to Sampson, nobody was interested in hearing what the book was about.

Next came the message telling him to report to Marguerite Watkins at the IUPUI Affirmative Action Office. A coworker had filed a racial harassment charge against him.

Most of my account is from David Hoppe at NUVO, who continues the story, published Feb. 27:

"Then Sampson received a letter, dated Nov. 25, 2007, from Lillian Charleston, also of IUPUI's Affirmative Action Office. The letter begins by saying that the AAO has completed its investigation of a coworker's allegation that Sampson 'racially harassed her by repeatedly reading the book Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan by Todd Tucker in the presence of Black employees.'

"It goes on to say, 'You demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your coworkers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence, you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black coworkers.' Charleston went on to say that according to "the legal,"reasonable person standard,' a majority of adults are aware of and understand how repugnant the KKK is to African-Americans, '"

This is a sad state of affairs for academia at IUPUI, which, I know, has had a history of racial issues. But this shows lack of leadership at the top; somebody is not minding the store.

In the annals of Hoosier history, it also reminds me very much of students at the IU Bloomington campus a few years ago, who objected to what they considered racially offensive paintings by the great muralist Thomas Hart Benson. His work there focused on Indiana history, and appropriately, in one panel, a sheeted Klansman is depicted. Students felt intimidated and uncomfortable around the art.

That story generated a lot of mainstream media attention and a thorough look-at by the university. In the end, the students' demands to have the offensive mural removed was, mercifully, not met. Instead there was to be dialogue and an effort to improve race relations on the campus.

Sounds like IUPUI has similar work cut out for it.

Here are the sources for other takes on this:

http://freestudents.blogspot.com/2008/03/we-are-surrounded-by-morons.html

http://catch22.nuvo.net/

and

http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9022.html?PHPSESSID=cf6a5bfbc7b818605588c1ce6fe61a0f

Incidentally, this story has received no coverage in the Star. I'm confident that's not for lack of interest among reporters. The Star's new format -- 5 columns, bigger type and heavy on the white space --- has given it an even lighter look of late than usual.

Thank heaven for blogs.

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